Hand motions during Mass?

I have noticed that during some parts of the mass, some of the congregation make a fist with their right hand and tap their chest with it (over their hearts). I noticed this during the Penetential Rite and during the consecration when the host and chalice are lifted up. Could someone please explain what this means? It seems to be an older tradition (I don’t see young people doing it), and I would like to start doing it, but I don’t know what it means. Little help?

Samantha :slight_smile:

It is actually an ancient form of penitence. During the penitential rite, the rubrics note that “we strike our breast”, ditto for the Agnus Dei. In fact, Jesus makes reference to this particular act in one of his parables contrasting the tax collector who prays in the back with the Pharisee who prays in the front. The tax collect strikes his breast and repeatedly asks the Lord to have mercy on him for he is a sinner.

From New Advent:
Striking of the Breast

Striking of the breast as a liturgical act is prescribed in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass during the Confiteor at the phrase “Through my fault” (three times), at the Nobis Quoque Peccatoribus (once), at the Agnus Dei (three times), and at the Domine, Non Sum Dignus (three times). With bowed head, except at the Nobis Quoque Peccatoribus, moderately and without noise, the celebrant strikes his breast with the right hand, the fingers being held closely together and curved or fully extended, as the rubrics are silent on this point; after the consecration, however, with the last three fingers only, since the thumb and index finger, which are joined, must not come in contact with the chasuble. At the Agnus Dei in requiem Masses the striking of the breast is omitted, to show that the celebrant is thinking of the departed more than of himself. The faithful are accustomed to this practice as well as the priest.

The early Christians were familiar with the practice, as St. Augustine and St. Jerome testify. “No sooner have you heard the word ‘Confiteor’”, says the former, “than you strike your breast. What does this mean except that you wish to bring to light what is concealed in the breast, and by this act to cleanse your hidden sins?” (Sermo de verbis Domini, 13). We strike our breast", declares St. Jerome, “because the breast is the seat of evil thoughts: we wish to dispel these thoughts, we wish to purify our hearts” (In Ezechiel, c. xviii). A warrant for these statements is found in the Psalmist: A contrite and humbled heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise (Psalm 1:19). The petitioner at the Throne of Mercy would chasten his heart and offer it as a sacrifice to God who healeth the broken of heart and bindeth up their wounds (Ps. cxlvi, 3). The ancient Christians were accustomed to strike the breast when they heard mention made or sensual sins; at the “Forgive us our trespasses” of the Pater Noster; and in detestation of the crime of the Jews, at the words of the Gospel, “Thou hast a devil”, applied to Christ.

[quote="Kaizmom, post:1, topic:186071"]
I have noticed that during some parts of the mass, some of the congregation make a fist with their right hand and tap their chest with it (over their hearts).

[/quote]

During the Confiteor ("I confess to almighty God..."), one form of the Penitential Act, we strike our breast at specific words. Here's an excerpt on why we do this and what it means, from my Praying the Mass: The Prayers of the People:The first half of the Confiteor ends with an admission of personal guilt for our sins. As we say these words, we strike our breast three times in a sign of penitence:

mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa.
through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; [Sir. 20:2b]

The repetition of this admission of guilt adds to its severity. We do not say “The devil made me do it, the devil made me do it, you can bet the devil made me do it,” but accuse only ourselves for our sins. We beat our breast with a closed fist, like the tax collector who prayed from his heart, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13) Concerning the gravity of these words and this gesture, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:[INDENT]We point not at someone else but at ourselves as the guilty party, [which] remains a meaningful gesture of prayer. … When we say mea culpa (through my fault), we turn, so to speak, to ourselves, to our own front door, and thus we are able rightly to ask forgiveness of God, the saints, and the people gathered around us, whom we have wronged. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 207)Rev. Romano Guardini explained that the meaning of this gesture of contrition depends upon it being done properly:To brush one’s clothes with the tips of one’s fingers is not to strike the breast. We should beat upon our breasts with our closed fists. … It is an honest blow, not an elegant gesture. To strike the breast is to beat against the gates of our inner world in order to shatter them. This is its significance. … “Repent, do penance.” It is the voice of God. Striking the breast is the visible sign that we hear that summons. … Let it wake us up, and make us see, and turn to God. (Sacred Signs)The Douay Catechism (from 1649), a question-and-answer catechism on the doctrines of the Church, included a chapter expounding the essence and ceremonies of the Mass. It explains that the reason for striking the heart is “to teach the people to return into the heart” because it “signifies that all sin is from the heart, and ought to be discharged from the heart, with hearty sorrow.” (p. 125)

[RIGHT]Praying the Mass: The Prayers of the People, pp. 45-46[/RIGHT][/INDENT]
In the Ordinary Form of the Mass, this is the only place the rubrics call for us to strike our breast. In the Extraordinary Form, this also happens when making the response "Lord, I am not worthy..." right before the Communion.procession. Here again from my book is an explanation about that:
The Extraordinary Form of the Mass includes a three-fold striking of the breast while this response Domine, non sum dignus..., that is, "Lord, I am not worthy..."] is said three times. Although it is not presently prescribed in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, Pope Benedict, writing before his election to the papacy, considered that at this moment, “we look upon him who is the Shepherd and for us became the Lamb and, as Lamb, bore our iniquities” and that “it is only right and proper that we should strike our breasts and remind ourselves, even physically, that our iniquities lay on his shoulders, that ‘with his stripes we are healed.’” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 207) Rev. Romano Guardini also wrote of this gesture that, when done before Communion, “it is a summons to repentance and to the self-inflicted punishment of a contrite heart.” (Sacred Signs) This gesture may be done as a personal devotion, but it is possible that in the future this pious tradition will be universally re-incorporated into the Roman liturgy.

[RIGHT]Praying the Mass: The Prayers of the People, pp. 146-147[/RIGHT]
As for when to do it, it is up to you if you would like to make it when the Host and Chalice are elevated following their consecration in the Eucharistic Prayer. I would expect people do it as a reminder that Jesus underwent great pain and suffering because of our sins, and striking the breast reminds them of that great Passion of our Lord and stirs in them awe and reverence and gratitude.

As Japhy pointed out, this is not just some old tradition, but something that the faithful are required to do under the CURRENT liturgical rubrics.

It listed as an action for the faithful in the Sacramentary.

So in the ordinary form of the mass, the Confiteor is the only time that the rubrics call for the striking upon the breast? I know that during Sunday masses, this prayer is often replaced with the Kyrie. Is it to be done during the Kyrie as well?

The striking of the breast during the elevation of the body and blood is simply a “personal devotion”? Not a requirement? Did I understand all of that right?

Thanks!

[quote="Kaizmom, post:6, topic:186071"]
So in the ordinary form of the mass, the Confiteor is the only time that the rubrics call for the striking upon the breast? I know that during Sunday masses, this prayer is often replaced with the Kyrie. Is it to be done during the Kyrie as well?

[/quote]

A clarification is in order.

There are three forms the Penitential Act can take. 1) the Confiteor, 2) a short call-and-response (which is almost never used), and 3) a Kyrie with three invocations or "tropes". The Kyrie proper is simply "Lord have mercy (x2), Christ have mercy (x2), Lord have mercy (x2)". If the Penitential Act is form 1 or form 2, then it is followed by the Kyrie. If Penitential Act form 3 is used, since it already includes the Kyrie, it doesn't get followed with the Kyrie.

The Confiteor is the only form which involves the striking of the breast. There is no gesture used in form 2 or form 3, or the Kyrie in general.

So, to recap, the Penitential Act is either:
[LIST=1]
]*Confiteor (with striking the breast), followed by Kyrie
]A brief call and response, followed by *Kyrie
]An "enhanced" *Kyrie, not followed by Kyrie
[/LIST]

[quote="Kaizmom, post:6, topic:186071"]
The striking of the breast during the elevation of the body and blood is simply a "personal devotion"? Not a requirement?

[/quote]

Correct.

I strike my breast if we do the "Throught my fault"(3 times) (which we do not do anymore), our parish likes just the Kyrie sung. At the point when we say "Grant us peace"(once). And when the host and cup are raised(once each- I read somewhere we only need to do it once ). Also at the "Lord I am not worthy to receive you"(once). Yes I do a lot of striking, but my parents taught me and I consider this a form of reverence. Just a note. A lot of Catholics do not make a profound bow during the Creed just after the word heaven. This honors the incarnation. It is mandatory.

[quote="turtleoompa, post:8, topic:186071"]
Just a note. A lot of Catholics do not make a profound bow during the Creed just after the word heaven. This honors the incarnation. It is mandatory.

[/quote]

Yeah, during the words "By the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man" we make a profound bow (a bow of the body, not just of the head). It's there, but few people know about it. I rarely see priests do it, and if he doesn't do it, he's certainly not going to tell the people about it so they do it, and the people won't have a model to follow!

Thanks! That actually helps a lot and know I understand. I will let me husband know about the rubrics of it. We DO do the bow. I have done that ever since I came into the church in 2001- however, I learned about it from my RCIA sponsor, not from anything that a church official taught me. I am seeing more and more people do it though. Thanks everyone!

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